“If a wound has befallen you, a wound like it has already befallen others. We alternate the days of successes and reverses among peoples.” According to Iqbal, this is one of those verses of the Quran which can help us study history as a sign of God. The following is an example of how we may apply it.
One of the most critical periods in the history of British democracy lasted from 1640 to 1689, witnessing the reigns of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, Charles II, James II, William III and Mary II. We might be able to see that democracy in Pakistan has also been evolving in a somewhat similar manner since 1970.
By looking at these parallels from the perspective of those who created Pakistan, we can make certain predictions about the future, foresee an impending disaster and find solutions ahead of time. So, let’s begin by noticing the most obvious parallels.
Charles I dissolved the Short Parliament (lasting only three weeks in 1640), and entered into a conflict with the Long Parliament (established in 1640 and outliving Charles). This conflict led to two civil wars in England, a long and disastrous one in 1642-1643, and a shorter one in 1648-1649. The second of these led to the execution of Charles I in 1649.
Likewise, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came into conflict with two parliaments, respectively convened after the elections of 1970 and 1977. In the first instance, he famously declared that he would “break the legs” of anybody who dared attend the session of the parliament. In the second instance, he called the parliament although almost the entire opposition had boycotted it. The two conflicts led to two civil wars: the more disastrous one in East Pakistan in 1971, and a much lesser one in West Pakistan in March-April 1977 (usually downplayed by our historians). The second civil war led to the ousting of Bhutto from power and his execution in 1979, just as the second civil war in England had led to the execution of Charles I.
It is impossible to miss the striking similarities between the two men who got Charles and Bhutto executed, respectively, Oliver Cromwell and General Ziaul Haque. Both rose to power at the head of armies, both claimed to be Godly men and tried to introduce religious laws, and both were maligned after their death (much of what a British professor is saying about Cromwell in the video embedded below can be repeated by a Pakistani professor about Zia).
At the end of the eleven-year Interregnum period initiated by Cromwell, the heir of the deceased king returned from exile and was crowned as Charles II. Likewise, after the end of the Zia era (which also lasted eleven years), the daughter of Bhutto assumed power after having returned from exile.
In many ways, the regime of Benazir Bhutto set the precedent for most of the elected rulers in Pakistan since then, such as Nawaz Sharif, Iftikhar Gilani and others. Hence, these rulers can be collectively treated as the Pakistani counterparts of Charles II.
For instance, Charles II asserted his superiority over the parliament and became an absolute monarch in 1681, almost two decades after his return. This situation arose in Pakistan, not during the lifetime of Benazir but rather between 2014 and 2017, when the people began to feel that the families of Sharif and Bhutto-Zardari were becoming dynastic rulers all but in name. Just as Charles II got away with his actions because the parliament was reluctant to take up arms against a king once again and risking another civil war, so the army in Pakistan was reluctant to assume power in 2017, unlike its role in the past.
In Britain, the next ruler was James II (ascending the throne in 1685), and in Pakistan it was Imran Khan. (staring in 2018). The similarities between the two are uncanny. Being a convert to Catholicism, James II was popular among a minority of the population consisting of his co-religionists, who hailed him as an embodiment of liberalism and enlightenment, while the majority loathed him and called him arrogant and high-handed. Unfortunately, this also remained true about Imran Khan, although due to reasons other than religious affiliations.
James II dismissed the parliament almost as soon as he assumed power in 1685, and likewise, Imran Khan started his reign by entering into a conflict with the parliament, and subsequently ran his government almost entirely through extra-parliamentary ordinances instead of legislation approved by the parliament.
In his final act of defiance on 3 April 2022, Imran has dissolved the national assembly after declaring the majority of its members as unfit to hold office (the members opposed to him on that day were at least 195 in a house of 342). In Britain, the country found itself on the verge of a crisis and possibly another civil war within three years of the reign of James II, and the same appears to be the case in Pakistan in April 2022, after less than four years of the rule of Imran Khan.
At this point in the history of Britain, the parliament and the army jointly invited the estranged daughter of the king, Princess Mary and her husband William, the King of Netherlands (subsequently Mary II and William III), and they subsequently landed with their Dutch armies in 1688.
The equivalent in the history of Pakistan is the “long march” of the Pakistan Democratic Movement starting in late 2021, and culminating in a no-confidence motion in March 2022. Just as Mary and her husband had the support of the parliament as well as the army, the PDM is supported by the majority of the members of the national assembly, while the acclaimed “neutrality” of the army has been considered as good as any direct support under the present circumstances. And, just as William and Mary had foreign armies with them, an impression of “foreign backing” for the PDM prevails at least among the followers of Imran, although with much controversy.
In Britain, the unpopular James II took to exile, and the parliament offered the crown jointly to William and Mary on the condition that they agree to the Bill of Rights, according to which the monarchs were always going to abide by the dictates of the parliament. This is called the “Glorious Revolution” in the history of Britain, because monarchy became constitutional for the times to come, and so it remains to this date.
Exactly the same solution is being suggested by almost every section of the intelligentsia in Pakistan, but in Pakistan it will not bring any glorious outcome. It can only spell disaster.
In principle, not only the PTI and the PDM but even the media and every institution of the state seems to agree that the existing political parties should continue to lead the country after promising that they would respect the parliament and abide by the constitution in the future. This solution, which we desire, happens to be exactly what the British nation got in 1689, when their monarchs agreed to abide by the dictates of the parliament, but there is a catch.
This type of compromise will give us just what it gave Britain: constitutional monarchy. The British wanted it but is that what we want as well?
Our real problem is that we have not even realized that by allowing the existing political parties to continue, we will be constitutionalizing monarchy in Pakistan. This is because none of our existing political parties fit the basic definition of political party according to any precedent of Western democracy, whether British or American. These political parties, without the exception of the PTI, fit every description of elective monarchy, which has been the most common form of monarchy in Muslim history. So, the continuation of the existing political parties under any system will practically mean constitutionalizing elective monarchy in Pakistan.
Such an outcome suited the British nation, and they knew what they were getting. It does not suit us and what makes it even worse is the fact that we do not know that through our efforts to strengthen democracy in Pakistan, we are actually trying to achieve constitutional monarchy.
This misunderstanding can result in possibly the worst crisis of our history, because, in the words of Rumi, “Every nation that perished before you, perished due to the single reason that it mistook one thing for another.”
The way ahead
If we truly wish to survive and progress, we will need to start by recognizing whether it is true democracy or elective monarchy which has been trying to take roots in Pakistan through its mother, the institution of political party. The question is especially important if we know that the founding parents of Pakistan did not want political parties to have any place in the country to begin with, and wanted the “new state” to be sustained through national organization.
The solution for Pakistan lies in following the advice left behind by the founder of the nation, Jinnah, and his school of thought. In my understanding, this vision has become unknown and I am trying to bring it back to public knowledge through my various efforts, especially my YouTube series “Ten Political Principles of Jinnah” and the online course, “Be the Leader You Need.”
Next post in the series is “Imran Khan and James II: the future of the PTI in Pakistan”